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Home for the holidays

After a year crushing rocks in Iraq to make roads, Sgt. Bradley Christenson arrived home Wednesday to the hugs of his wife and three sons.

“It wouldn’t be Christmas without dad,” said Bradley’s wife, Jeanie Christenson. “I’m just very grateful for them to be home safe and sound.”

The 150 members of the Army Reserve’s 659th Engineer Company, which is based in Spokane Valley, returned to the United States from Iraq last week. The unit’s men and women from the Spokane area arrived by bus Wednesday night at the Walker Army Reserve Center at the Spokane Industrial Park.

“It’s a wonderful event,” said Larry Morton, who was picking up his daughter, Sgt. Jennifer Morton. “It’s been tough having her gone.”

The company, which suffered no casualties, had been scheduled to be in Iraq until next month, said Capt. Jon St. John, who leads the unit.

“To get everyone home for Christmas, I think, was the best Christmas present for everybody,” St. John said. “As a commander, to get everyone home is wonderful. That’s what you always strive for.”

Soldiers built roads, taxiways and helipads north of Baghdad. Some of the work was on an airbase in Balad, some was completed off the base on roads used by Iraqis.

While on the base, they sometimes faced mortar fire. Outside the walls, some were fired upon.

But when asked about their biggest challenges, many talked about the climate.

Temperatures reached into the 130s, said Morton, who crushed rock at a quarry on the base. Soldiers drank a lot of water and often worked at night to combat the heat.

“The harshness of the sand and the wind over there took a toll on our vehicles,” St. John said. “My maintenance guys worked their butts off.”

Specialist Bradley Gilmore can attest to complications caused by the sand to vehicles and construction equipment.

“It was like flour. It would get in there and make a mess,” said Gilmore, a mechanic who lives at Hauser Lake.

After his father picked him up at the reserve center, Gilmore was taken to a surprise welcome home party thrown by his family. He said soldiers found out that they likely would be home by Christmas last month.

“That’s what we were all looking forward to,” Gilmore said. “Most of us weren’t planning for it.”



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